What Election Night Says About Nevada

 At 9:35 p.m., on election night, MSNBC aired a commercial attacking Rep. Joe Heck for
opposing embryonic stem-cell research, paid for by House Majority PAC. The polls had been closed in Nevada for only two-and-a-half hours. Ideally, that was the last political ad we will see until … the municipal elections of 2013. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on yesterday’s fun, some of which we can expect to explore in future blogs, columns, and navel-gazing sessions:

• Barack Obama carried Nevada. Since he won nationally, that’s no shock. Since 1912, Nevada’s electoral votes have gone to the losing candidate only once—to Gerald Ford in 1976 instead of Jimmy Carter. So Nevada has become known as a bellwether, but now it’s a swing state to boot. Last night, it swung toward Obama, and he shouldn’t say, “Thank you.” He should say, “Muchas gracias.” Hispanics did a lot to drive him across the finish line here and elsewhere—and
so did the Culinary and other unions. All of which may explain any wailing and gnashing of teeth you hear from the Strip. Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson bet big against Obama. Not only did they lose, but their employees appear to have ignored them, too.

• But Nevadans want Obama to destroy Medicare and they love gridlock. How do we know? Because they voted to elect Dean Heller to a full six-year term to the Senate, and he’s the only member of Congress who voted twice for Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it. How to reconcile that? The only county that Shelley Berkley carried was Clark, and not by enough to overcome the rest of the state. Despite Clark County having 72 percent of the state’s population, a northern Nevadan won a Senate seat. Clark County obviously has the largest senior population in the state, too, and you can bet the results will show that Heller cut into Berkley in Clark County in the Sun Cities. Which ought to give us all pause to think, because they certainly didn’t pause to think, and neither did a lot of other Clark County residents.

• Did the ethics charges hurt Berkley? Certainly. But when you go through the long list of reasons, it goes back to Clark County not voting overwhelmingly for one of its own. Obama ran about 50,000 ahead of her in southern Nevada and carried Washoe.

• Sen. Harry Reid isn’t happy to be stuck with Heller for six years (the feeling is mutual), but Democrats gained in the Senate and his caucus will be more united. The Senate may be more polarized, but Republicans blew good chances in Indiana and Missouri by going with Tea Partiers. Reid should give thanks that the lesson he taught Republicans in 2010 in defeating Sharron Angle didn’t penetrate many skulls.

• The R-J changed publishers, editors and pollsters after the Harry Reid debacle of 2010
but, despite continuing to hurt its credibility with its editorial biases seeping into the news columns, still missed on the race between Steven Horsford and Danny Tarkanian. There, the percentages essentially were flipped:  Horsford beat Tarkanian by more than the margin the R-J poll showed Tarkanian ahead. Why? The same reason as the failure of 2010: increasing numbers of people — especially younger ones — don’t have land lines, and the polls undercounted Hispanics. And now Nevada has its first African-American congressman.

• The R-J did win one with the defeat of presumptive Assembly Speaker Marcus Conklin, who
would have done a fine job. Now William Horne, who appeared headed for majority leader, may be the man to watch. Not only an African-American congressman who had been state senate majority leader but an African-American speaker, too, in what once was known as the Mississippi of the West—and Horsford’s successor as state senate leader is Mo Denis, a Latino.

• Democrats gained an assembly seat for a 27-15 majority and held onto the state senate, 11-10, but could have picked up two more except for razor-thin losses by Benny Yerushalmi in Clark County and Sheila Leslie in Washoe County (a tough loss for Nevada’s six other liberals). But why is everybody saying no one has a legislative supermajority? Clark County does. But if Clark County couldn’t even get one of its most popular longtime politicians to the U.S. Senate for its own good, why should we expect its legislators to unite on what’s best for the area?

It says something else. Mark Hutchison and Greg Brower won those slight victories, partly by saying they were moderate. So did Dean Heller, who lied about Berkley. Mitt Romney reinvented himself , again, and lied more frequently about his opponent than any other presidential candidate in our history. It turns out that Nevada voters really are like those across the nation: They will vote in large numbers for a Republican who will say what needs to be said to win.